Friday, June 29, 2012


Finally made it to El Santuario de Chimayo!  We woke up in the Church's gym in Santa Cruz (1 toilet, 60 men), and munched on a quiche, with a bowl of cereal to sate my appetite.

There's a lightness to my footsteps we I walk to Chimayo. There was good conversation among the pilgrims, happy that we had "made it" (almost).  There was a nine smile stretch between Santa Cruz and Chimayo. We passed many churches, houses, and restaurants along the way.  We took a novel turn into old Chimayo (town), a section I had never explored.  And, like clock work, we made it to our destination sooner than we were scheduled to arrive.  Throughout this pilgrimage we walked faster than we had to, and my feet and legs felt it.

So we sat outside with the men's group we were shadowing, and the women's group we met in Santa Cruz.  As is the rule of pilgrimage, there is no fraternization between men and women's groups, so girlfriends and wives, sisters and aunts could not interact with any of the "men's folk."

Finally, we were given the "go ahead," and we made it to the Sanctuary.  Walking into the Sanctuary, we pass by a smaller statue of Mary, carved in the 1400s in Spain and brought to the "new world" int he 1600s, and housed in the Cathedral in Santa Fe. A kiss of her gown, or a gentle kneel was done by all of us. 

Inside the Sanctuary, there is much singing as each group makes it into the small space. NOW we can reach out and touch, hug, kiss, and fraternize with one another. Gias are lined up in front, along with the musicians and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Each group goes up to the front, and one by one we receive yet one more rosary from Spain's Santiago de Compstela.

Back in our group, we then file out, passing by the small chapel that houses the hole with the holy soil, with a variety of crutches and Santos lining the wall.  Out back, there's a nicely arranged gathering spot, with a large gazebo with stone benches around the gazebo.  A huge tree used to shade this spot. From each group, the crosses were brought together, as were the pieces of the heart and images of Mary.  The soil was distributed in the front of the gazebo and blessed.  There was a Mass that was celebrated, with the Chancellor from the Cathedral celebrating and preaching the homily, saying nothing that was memorable.  Few priests have done this walk. Archbishop Sanchez, who recently died, was well remembered as a friend of the pilgrimage. 2 hours in the sun is where we sat as the Mass went long.

Afterward, we gathered our bags, hugged and said our good-byes.  Joseph Sanches (from a previous pilgrimage) picked me up and dropped me off at the airport where I would pick up my rental car.

More on the afterthoughts of the pilgrimage coming up.

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

3 Things About Pilgrimage: My Testimonial

What I shared on the night of testimonials on Friday, June 1st:

1. Remember, that your first pilgrimage is like your first kiss: you never forget it.  Whether it has been a good or not-so-good or easy pilgrimage, one never forgets the pilgrimage nevertheless.  My first pilgrimage was to Chimayo, by way of Costilla, and I've never forgotten it.

2. About scallop shell--which we are now wearing around our necks: the scallop shell (from the Camino de Santiago de Compostela), is a reminder that we are to share, give-and-receive, with an open hand along the pilgrimage.  The open handedness of the scallop shell is a constant reminder that we share life together on pilgrimage;

3. The scallop shell is a reminder of our baptism.  Coming from the water, it is a constant reminder that we, who are Christians, are children or people of the "living water," namely Christ.

The scallop shell, as seen below, starts off with the fan fringe, with rows going toward the center.  Like the scallop shell, this pilgrimage began with five different routes that are bringing us together to one place, Chimayo.  We are one day away.

Trust me, fellow pilgrims, whether it was good or bad, you never forget your first pilgrimage...nor your first kiss.

Buen Camino!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 6: One More Mountain

They didn't tell me about the hill/mountain we would be climbing today, which is probably a good thing. Today was a 16 mile day--a little longer than the day before, but bearable.

We woke up after the group from the north already left for Chamisal.  It was a bittersweet moment, because this is the last day of our long walks.  Tomorrow would be an "easy" nine miles into Chimayo.  Breakfast went quickly, and I've got packing down to a fine art (took me forever on the first few days).  I've worn a different t-shirt each day, and smell pretty well.  Did notice a new blister today (sigh) on the ball of my right foot, so two blisters on this journey.  Not bad.  The double socks theory worked for me this time.

We were bussed to Chamisal, only to find the other group of men Peregrinos there.  Thankfully we were bussed further "up" the road.  We walked for a good distance before stopping at Las Trampas, with a church built in 1769.  I love this church and community, reflecting that when the Founding Fathers were in Philly thinking they were at the center of the US, while in NM (to be), there were Spanish settlers...and Indian Americans of course.  But the church was closed, with no one to welcome us, so no encuentros.

Then the surprise: straight uphill.  Zigzag pattern.  But uphill.  I fared well, but the joke was "up around the corner is the summit," and it never was. 

The beauty was to be found when we did reach the summit and saw the view of the valley where Chimayo was located.  Gorgeous.  Behind us were the Rocky Mountains' ridge. 

We walked to Cordova, a town where Vincent grew up (his grandparents lived here).  We walked by the Presbyterian Church of Cordova, and the men doffed their hats, and then we entered the Catholic church with their fascinating, hauntingly beautiful, and old Santos.  I marvel at these ancient relics that continue to remind us of the faith today.   This is so NOT a Presbyterian phenomenon.

Thankfully, Cordova was our last place today.  We walked to the post office and awaited the bus that would take us to Santa Cruz, where we would meet up with another men's group from the North and the women's group from ABQ.

The worship/Mass that night was celebrated by Fr. Ed.  It was great seeing him.  I also enjoyed the classroom where we slept, with the 1950 statutes of Jesus, Anthony, and Theresa of Avila.

We also welcomed the novice pilgrims tonight. This happens among all the groups. We are wearing white shirts, candles lit, and the cross on the floor, placed on the quilt, welcoming the new pilgrims with scallop shells around our necks and a hug for each pilgrim. Music that was played on the first night is played again, starting with "Let it be," by the Beatles, with focus on Mary. I learned of those pilgrims who walked 37 years (Roger), Charlie, who walked 13 miles and this was his last (trucker next year) who was proud his family was with him (sons, son-in-laws and grandsons); those who served prison time; those who were simply proud of their ability to walk thus far.  Kneeling and lying prostrate before the cross was part of the ritual.  Powerful, as always.  Lives devoted to Christ.

Finally: we had 1 toilet for 60 men.  Fascinating.

Buen camino!  Brett

p.s., a painting of the church in Cordova.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 5: Getting into the Pilgrimage

This much I know about pilgrimage: it takes me a few days to "get" into it.  Today, I got into pilgrimage.  It was no longer a physical challenge that would tear at limb and lungs.  We woke up late (4:30), getting a nice leisurely breakfast, without the usual rush because we would be walking 14 miles compared to days of 20-23 miles, which frankly are killers when they come all in-a-row.

The people who bused us last night from Sipapu returned and bused us back to Sipapu.  From there it was a leisurely walk to Placita, where we stopped at a beautiful chapel, where Gabriel's (a former leader) parents worship.  The chapel structure was mud.  What was unique was the floor was mud as well, and not pine as was the case with other chapel floors.  These structures keep cool in the hot dry heat of NM.  The Santos in this church were beautiful.  The corpus in this church was carved by Gabriel's dad who is in his 90s and is a Hermanos/Penitentes.

We then walked to the Morada, which has the customary figure of Jesus (life size) dragging a cross. This is the sign of a Morada.  Like all other Moradas, they sang songs and spoke primarily in Spanish.  The Hermanos are a 400 y.o. phenomena that started in Spain.  It is a federation of lay brothers (no sisters) who, again, are not divorced and not out and gay.  The do not evangelize: one has to ask to be a Hermanos (or Penitentes). Usually, sons ask the fathers to be a Hermanos.  There job is to support the Catholic communities wherever they are planted.  They too have their crosses and banners, come out and sing and kiss our gia.  If there is a cross outside the Morada, we pass by and touch or kiss it (I touch).

We climbed up a small hill through the back roads toward Penasco, entering the high school grounds where we slept last night by the back.  Lunch was sandwiches and delicious desserts.  Neither weight gained or loss.

But that was not the end: we walked to Chamisal today: another small chapel in a small rural town.  3 more miles from Penasco.

By the time we returned to Penasco (picked up by cars and vans), we were joined by another men's group.  They joined us for worship tonight at Mass with a priest from Nigeria who loves to preach.  He enjoys singing his way into the homily (parishioners know it will be good when he sings).  Though I found him self centered, others enjoyed his fiery oratory, ala Baptist preaching.  While the focus the other day was on himself (as was today), he finally talked about the kinship of Mary and Elizabeth, and the children within their womb.  The music from our group has been 2 guitars and an acorrdian.  Tonight we were joined by another pilgrimage group, in which they had a guitar from a mariachi band and knew how to sing on key.  It was grand.

Dinner was a love fest among pilgrims and the families who keep visiting.  This is part of the fun: the camraderie we experience after walking on several pilgrimages.

Tonight I got a massage: James (Brandon's dad) and Charlie Gallegos used cocoa butter to massage calves and shins...ah!

And bananas were plentiful.

A good day.

Buen camino!

p.s., this is the chapel in Chamisal!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 4: Up and Over the Hill to Penasco!

This was going to be a grueling day--the hardest one on the pilgrimage.  The reason it was hard because of the change in altitude: sea-level man here walked up to 11,000 feet above sea level.  Wo!

We started off without breakfast, leaving Mora's High School gym at 5 a.m.  We stopped at a lovely chapel for a snack and "encuentros' or visit.  Breakfast was going to be at a beautiful Penitentes' Morada. Again, like so many of the Moradas, it looked like a Catholic gift shop set up in a small house, with a focal point of Jesus' bloody visage somewhere in the house.  Most people speak Spanish in a Morada.  I learned that to be a Penitentes, one has to ask to be one.  Penitentes don't evangelize.  And Penitentes cannot be divorced, and I would add "gay." They are usually sons of fathers who are Penitentes who are now members.  Bountiful breakfast on a cold morning, with a small fire in the fireplace.

There was an older gentleman from Colorado whose house we walked by on the way to Penasco.  He ran out with his camera and took pics, and soon was walking with us!  We got a convert!

The road up to Holman Pass was a winding zigzag path, dirt road, in a heavily forested area, with a creek running nearby.  Enrique kept walking too quickly, taking long pauses that made my muscles seize.  UGH!  So, along with my friend Marty (and his suggestion), we walked without the group, ahead of the group, so that my muscles didn't seize.  We walked before the gia, walking up over Holman Pass.  And lo and behold I got in trouble for walking before the gia (crucifix), even though we asked leadership if it was OK before we did it. Leadership is not going well on this pilgrimage.

From Holman Pass, the scenic vista was breathtaking.  Beautiful!  Getting over the Pass was beautiful too.

Our destination was Sipapu Ski Resort, where members of Penasco's Catholic Church picked us up.  Amen!  Mass was at 5, dinner after, and an early night to bed, with a promise of getting up late the next morning since we were walking only 14 miles the next day.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 3: Cold to Hot, to Mora

Amazingly enough, it was cold enough this morning that when we started the pilgrimage we found a water bottle with frozen water in it on the side of the road.

Up at 3, and off we walked at 5...or that was the way it was supposed to be. We waited about an hour this morning for the buses to arrive to take us to the jump off point for the 23 mile pilgrimage.  Sadly, the buses never arrived.  So we quickly made places in what vans, trucks, and minivans we had, and left Las Vegas, NM.

We were dropped off at a church down the road...of course, the church was not open at 5:30 a.m., and the person who was to open it up was not up and around. So, wrapped tightly in warm clothes, we were off.

Every morning it is a silent walk, which I so appreciate.  Of course, it is always coldest before the dawn, and this morning is no difference.  We walked into the darkness of the morning, seeing the sun rise slowly over the east.  Mountains before us.  Trees all around us.  Amazing to behold. 

We were walking quickly.  Enrique--Rektor--walks way to fast, even though he is getting the worse blisters.  He is 23 y.o., and it shows in his exuberance for leading the first time.  We keep making it to places faster than we should, throwing off the schedule, so we take more and more long breaks.

Lunch was visiting a chapel--an encuentros at a capilla--and we had bananas!  Finally.  I made much noise about this, and we had bananas from that morning on.

We walked in and among ranches and homesteads, cattle ranches one point we even walked among the cattle who were scared and running away from us.  Fun sight to see.

Much of our walk today was on dirt path today, making it easy on the shins.  Much praying of the rosary, with Mary and Elizabeth as our focus throughout much of this pilgrimage.  A fascinating feminine vision of the Holy.

Tonight?  Mora!  And great green and red chili!

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 2: to Las Vegas! (NM)

Woke up at 3 a.m.  I could watch them turn on the light as I got little sleep that night.  Packing all the gear and getting in line in "Formation," starting off with Morning Prayer, stretches, and then breakfast, we are on the road by 5 a.m.  On the left is Starvation Peak and St. Rita's Church.  It is cold, because it is always cold before the dawn. 

We walked to Tetelote and the church there, along with another small chapel (capilla) up the road, taking two 10-30 min. stops at each place.  The food and drink is good, but the rituals of our stops takes time from the walk as we kiss the gia and banner of the hosting church or chapel, words of introduction, eat, drink, bless those who fed us, listen to the history of the people of the capilla, go to the bathroom, all before we can get on the road again.

Last Vegas, NM is NOT Las Vegas, NV.  It is a small historic town, with a charming historic district.  We stopped at an historic Catholic church that was not open, and then walked to the Catholic family center, where lunch was waiting!  Today we walked 19 miles.  Lunch was sandwiches, and dinner was spaghetti, which is always great for walking the next day (22 miles, carbo load).  The showers in this center was great.  I was the reader for that evening's Mass, in which the priest gave a decent homily on the life of pilgrimage and welcoming the pilgrim. Tonight we also had a talk by a deacon, talking about his work as a deacon in the Catholic church. The sleep this evening was solid as I was in the mood to catch up to last night's horrible sleep.

Highlights: seeing a Carnegie library in the middle of town; the Victorian styled houses; and getting Emergen C fromWalgreens.  Now if I/we only could get some bananas.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Starting in Bernal, NM

In the next few days I'm going to write posts from my pilgrimage from Bernal, NM to Chimayo, NM.  It started on Sunday afternoon, May 27, 2012 and ended on Sat. morning, June. 2. 

It was the usually sunny NM day, with the sky shaped like a blue bowl covering the entire horizon. The gathering of pilgrims happened slowly throughout the afternoon, with 23 of us joining together (though 30 had signed up for this path).  We met at the Bernal Community Center, home of the Bernal Blue Jays.  Outside Bernal was this Pedernal (of Abiqui) lookalike rock formation, a.k.a., Starvation Peak. It was a great marker to designate the beginning of the pilgrimage.

We said the rosary that night at St. Rita's Church, a saint whose background still remains mysterious to me.  She seemed to be abused by her husband, and saved--both physically and spiritually from the abuse--by the hand of God.